Pilot in command

The pilot in command (PIC) of an aircraft is the person aboard the aircraft who is ultimately responsible for its operation and safety during flight. This would be the "captain" in a typical two- or three-pilot flight crew, or "pilot" if there is only one certified and qualified pilot at the controls of an aircraft. The PIC must be legally certified to operate the aircraft for the specific flight and flight conditions, but need not be actually manipulating the controls at any given moment. The PIC is the person legally in charge of the aircraft and its flight safety and operation, and would normally be the primary person liable for an infraction of any flight rule.

The strict legal definition of PIC may vary slightly from country to country. The current ICAO and FAA definition is: "The pilot responsible for the operation and safety of the aircraft during flight time." Note that "flight time" is defined as "The total time from the moment an aircraft first moves under its own power for the purpose of taking off until the moment it comes to rest at the end of the flight." [cite web|url=http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa/model_aviation/media/PART01.doc|title="CIVIL AVIATION REGULATIONS - PART 1 - GENERAL POLICIES, PROCEDURES, AND DEFINITIONS"|date=October, 2002|version=2.3|accessdate=06-10-03|format=DOC] This would normally include taxiing, which involves the ground operation to and from the runway, as long as the taxiing is carried out with the intention of flying the aircraft—that is, in most jurisdictions it is legal for a mechanic or other person to taxi an aircraft on the ground for the purpose of moving it from one spot to another without a pilot's license.


The concept of the PIC in aviation is a direct descendant of similar maritime concepts dating back thousands of years before the Wright Brothers took to the air. The maritime equivalent is the captain of a ship or boat. In many ways aviation drew from the nautical background (for example, calling an aircraft 'ship', measuring its speed in knots, distance in nautical miles, not to mention the similar uniforms of nautical Captains and aviation Captains), and not the least of which was the obvious need for a clear chain of command, even for civilian operations, both when on the high seas as well as in a flying machine.

U.S. "Pilot in Command" FAA regulations

Under U.S. FAA FAR 91.3, "Responsibility and authority of the pilot in command", the FAA declares: [cite web|url=http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=48d3b14d9bd513dcc52104c2a65deed0&rgn=div5&view=text&node=14:|accessdate=2006-10-20|title=U.S. FAA FAR 91.3: Responsibility and authority of the pilot in command]

*(a) The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft.

*(b) In an in-flight emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot in command may deviate from any rule of this part to the extent required to meet that emergency.

*(c) Each pilot in command who deviates from a rule under paragraph (b) of this section shall, upon the request of the Administrator, send a written report of that deviation to the Administrator.

ICAO and other countries equivalent rules are similar.

Especially interesting is FAR 91.3(b) which empowers the PIC to override any other regulation in an emergency, to take the safest course of action at his/her sole discretion. This provision mirrors the authority given to the captains of ships at sea, with similar justifications. It essentially gives the PIC the final authority in any situation involving the safety of a flight, irrespective of any other laws or regulations.


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